Coca-Cola Gets its Ads Right - Finally

By Published on .

We don't want to buy the world a Coke, but we'd like to buy Wieden & Kennedy a beer.

Not because its first full-fledged campaign for Coca-Cola is perfect. It's sure not that. Nor is it some sort of creative breakthrough. It really breaks no new ground at all. Nor do a few TV commercials necessarily constitute a comprehensive conversation with the sugar-water-swilling public.

Who cares? This is still the best Coke advertising in a long, long time because it simply understands.

It understands that Coke trade dress-the red color, the ribbon, the contour glass, the logos-are magical icons with immeasurable power.

It understands that the fizzing, bubbling sound of a soft-drink pour is one of the most fetching, evocative and appetizing sounds on earth.

It understands that "The Pause that Refreshes" isn't just an old slogan, but the essence of the most valuable brand in history.

It understands (as frequently noted in this space) that as refreshing and beloved as Coke may be, it does not make anyone break out in smiles, much less in song.

It understands-and please forgive the technical jargon here-that Coke is yummy.

It understands that giddily windsurfing youngsters with perfect teeth do not rush out of the ocean to converge on coolers of ice-cold beverages, but that nonetheless Coke actually does strike universal chords-or near-universal ones, anyway-in actual human beings.

It even understands moral relativism.

So we learn in the best spot of the TV campaign, in which we glimpse a young man at a deli serve-yourself fountain filling his Coke cup and furtively sipping from it before again topping it off. Depending on your view of law and order, this could be deemed theft-the most petty of larcenies, but larceny nonetheless. Maybe gigantic corporations shouldn't use their advertising to condone such antisocial behavior.

But everybody who has ever self-served Coke has either committed the crime or considered it, with varying degrees of guilt feelings. It is that nervous sensation of being a one-cent shoplifter that gives this ad its charge. The punch line, as in all the new spots, comes in a white-on-red title card: "Sip stealing. Not a felony in all 50 states." Then the red background swirls into the shape of a contour bottle and does a 180 to show off the logo. Nice.

Not all the spots are so deft.

Another shows a guy sitting at a diner counter with food in his mouth and an empty glass. Just as he's getting desperate, the waitress appears with a fill-up. The onscreen type in this one says "Free refills. It should be a law."

Agreed, but why is the glass filled with obviously acrylic ice cubes that neither melt nor even rattle around when lifted? This campaign is about the Coke experience real thing. What a weird detail to be so sloppy about.

Speaking of weird, one spot uses the most charming music track in the world-Paolo Conte's "Swonderful"-beneath a ransom-note-style collage about some character named Fritz, from the year 1652, who traveled in time to the (near) present and returned to the 17th century with a supply of Coke, which he shared with the peasants, the tradesmen, King Louis IV and Joan of Arc (who had been dead for 220 years. Hmm). Then Genghis Khan somehow materialized from the 13th century, whereupon Fritz's luck started running out.

Never mind the denouement; it's nonsensical. This spot raises the question: Can an irresistible tune and eye-catching video gimmick sustain a commercial without a selling idea? Answer: no.

That's OK. The rest is witty without being broad, cheeky without being obnoxious, whimsical without being flighty. Anyone can go overboard. Like Wieden, we understand.

Review: 3 stars

Ad: Coca-Cola

Agency: Wieden & Kennedy

Location: Portland, Ore.

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